ST. PAUL, Minn. –
A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Derek Chauvin to 21 years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, telling the former Minneapolis police officer what he did was “simply wrong” and “offensive.”
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson slammed Chauvin for his actions on May 25, 2020, when the white officer pinned Floyd to the pavement outside a Minneapolis corner store for more than nine minutes, even as the black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” and stopped responding. Floyd’s murder sparked protests around the world in a reckoning over police brutality and racism.
“I really don’t know why you did what you did,” Magnuson said. “Putting your knee on a person’s neck until they expire is just wrong. … Your conduct is wrong and offensive.”
Magnuson, who earlier this year presided over the federal trial and convictions of three other officers at the scene, blamed Chauvin alone for what happened. Chauvin was by far the senior officer present when police tried to arrest Floyd while he was responding to a 911 call accusing him of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. And Chauvin brushed off questions from one of the other officers about whether Floyd should roll onto his side.
“You absolutely destroyed the lives of three young officers by taking command of the scene,” Magnuson said.
Still, Magnuson’s sentence was at the low end of the 20 to 25 years required in a plea deal in which Chauvin will serve the federal sentence while serving a 22 1/2-year sentence for his state murder conviction. . and charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Because of the differences in parole eligibility in the state and federal systems, it means that Chauvin will serve slightly more time behind bars than he would have served with the state sentence alone. He would be eligible for parole after 15 years of the state sentence, but he must serve nearly 18 years of his federal time before he can be released.
You will also serve your time in the federal system, where you can be safer and held with fewer restrictions than in the state system.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, had asked for 20 years, arguing that Chauvin was sorry and would make that clear to the court. But Chauvin, in brief comments, did not directly apologize or express remorse to Floyd’s family.
Instead, he told the family that he wishes Floyd’s children “all the best in life.”
Chauvin was wearing an orange prison uniform and a protective mask, according to media reports from the courtroom. He greeted family and friends in the gallery as he entered. Media reports did not mention a visible reaction from Chauvin to any part of the audience.
Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell asked Magnuson to give Chauvin the full 25 years possible in the plea deal, highlighting the “special responsibility” he had as a police officer to care for those in his custody.
“He wasn’t a rookie,” Bell said. “He knew what his background was. … he admitted in this court that his conduct was wrong and he did it anyway.”
Floyd’s brother, Philonise, also called for the maximum sentence possible, telling Magnuson that the Floyd family had “received life in prison.” He said later that he was upset that Chauvin didn’t spend more time behind bars.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, told Magnuson that her son did not come to work intending to kill someone.
“A lot of things have been written about him that are totally wrong, like he’s a racist, he’s not, he has no heart,” he said. “I think it is God’s will that all of us forgive.”
Chauvin’s guilty plea included an admission that he knowingly deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable seizure, including unreasonable force by a police officer.
It also included a charge of violating the rights of a 14-year-old black boy whom he restrained in an unrelated case in 2017. John Pope, now 18, told Magnuson that Chauvin “didn’t care about the outcome” of that restriction.
“By the grace of God I lived to see another day,” Pope said. “It will remain a part of me for the rest of my life.”
Magnuson has not set sentencing dates for the other three officers who were at the scene, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane, who were convicted in February on federal civil rights charges.
Lane is also due to be sentenced Sept. 21 after pleading guilty in state court to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Thao and Kueng have rejected plea deals and will be tried on accessory charges on October 24.